Assurances have been sought from Scottish transport minister Humza Yousaf that ferry fares on lifeline services to and from the isles will be cut.
Highlands and Islands MSP Maree Todd along with Northern Isles MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur have called for the reduction in fees to Orkney and Shetland, following an announcement by the minister today.
Mr Yousaf said there would be a review of the tendering policy for government contracts.
The existing contract for Serco NorthLink is due to expire next year. But speaking after the announcement today, Mr Scott highlighted comments by Mr Yousaf who said it was highly likely that the current deal would be extended to 2019.
Ms Todd asked the minister to assure passengers that the continued provision of the Northern Isles ferry services and continuity in service delivery was a top priority.
“I’m glad that the minister committed to the continuity of provision and delivery of Northern Isles ferry services,” said Ms Todd.
“I think it was important to ensure that the best service for passengers remained the government’s priority through this review – so it is good to have that assurance.
“I am also very pleased that the minister has made it clear that local communities will be given a say on whether or not their local ferry service is tendered or not.”
She added: “During the budget process, I have asked the government once again to take action on reducing ferry fares for Orkney and Shetland.
“That is something that was in our manifesto, it is something that the people of Orkney and Shetland voted for me to deliver and it is something that I will work hard to ensure that it is delivered.
“Lower ferry fares would mean a better deal for the hundreds of customers and businesses that depend on the ferry service in the Northern Isles and I am hopeful that we will see lower fares sooner rather than later.”
Mr Scott said: “Islanders have been promised substantial reductions in the ferry fares we pay. The Scottish government cut west coast fares by 50 per cent.
“The Northern Isles want our fares to fall in line with those reductions to boost the islands economy and help local people, families and businesses with the cost of travelling on our lifeline routes.
“We want the transport minister to press ahead with these reductions no matter what happens to the re-tendering of the shipping contract.
“We look forward to meeting with Humza Yousaf in the coming days to reiterate this case. We also want to ensure that this review does not lead to disruption on existing services and we will be meeting Serco NorthLink to discuss that, as well as the position of the local staff who work for the company.”
Mr Scott also asked the government what would happen to European tender rules if the UK leaves the EU, arguing “if we leave the EU and single market then there will not be a tendering procedure to follow”.
He said the transport minister confirmed the review would consider that.